Utah State football held its first scrimmage of fall camp Tuesday night under the lights of Merlin Olsen Field at Romney Stadium, and second-year head coach Matt Wells said he was pleased with the play from his offense and defense as the team practiced for roughly two hours with an estimated 110 snaps.
“The first thing I told these guys is that I was really pleased with the way the offense came out fast and efficient,” Wells said. “Chuckie (Keeton) was really accurate and got off to a fast start. I’m proud of how the No. 1 defense played in the red zone. They gave up some stuff in the middle of the field, so good job by the No. 2 offense. That is not like our defense, but I’m not worried about it one bit. We held some guys out with some training camp tweaks, but I’m not worried about them.
“We’ve got some work to do in the secondary, we know that. We’re playing new guys at new positions, even in the last couple of days. That’s something we can get cleaned up. I thought it was pretty clean from an offensive standpoint. There weren’t very many balls on the ground."
Offensively, Utah State scored six touchdowns and added two field goals during the scrimmage. Senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton was 16-of-22 passing for 180 yards with two touchdowns, while rushing for another 32 yards on seven carries with one touchdown in his first live action since suffering a season-ending knee injury against BYU on Oct. 4, 2013.
“The first scrimmage of fall camp went pretty well for the offensive side of the ball,” Keeton said. “The first team defense did well, but I know they’re going to continue to push through to make it even better. From an offensive standpoint, tonight was much better than our first day of full pads. We’re looking forward to improving and having a little bit more success in the upcoming scrimmage on Saturday.”
Keeton’s first touchdown pass of the scrimmage was from 6 yards to junior wide receiver Brandon Swindall as the No. 1 offense went 75 yards in 11 plays against the No. 2 defense on the opening series. Keeton then scored on a 2-yard run during the next series to cap a 13-play, 65-yard drive. His final touchdown pass of the evening was from 40 yards to junior wide receiver Hunter Sharp to cap a four-play, 50-yard drive.
Senior running back Joe Hill also performed well in his first live action since suffering a season-ending knee injury at San Jose State on Sept. 27, 2013. Overall, Hill finished the scrimmage with 67 yards on 13 carries, which included a 1-yard touchdown run. Hill also caught two passes for 24 yards.
“My knee is strong and I’m just getting my confidence back,” Hill said. “I didn’t even think about it today. I was just making my reads and my cuts.”
Other offensive standouts included Sharp, who caught five passes for 90 yards with one touchdown, while junior wide receiver JoJo Natson had four catches for 36 yards and carried the ball two times for 19 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown run. Fellow junior wide receiver Brandon Swindall also caught five passes for 29 yards, including one touchdown, while freshman wide receiver Zach Van Leeuwen had four receptions for 30 yards. Sophomore quarterback Darell Garretson also played well as he was 14-of-25 passing for 122 yards, which included an 11-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Hayden Weichers.
In all, Utah State’s offense gained 491 yards of total offense (378-passing, 113-rushing).
Defensively, junior cornerback Deshane Hines had a team-high eight tackles, and sophomore cornerback Devin Centers added seven stops. Sophomore defensive end Eric Berntson led the team with three sacks, while junior linebacker LT Filiaga had two tackles for loss as part of his three total tackles. Junior defensive end Jordan Nielsen added two tackles and recovered a fumble in the end zone.
“The defense got off to a slow start and the offense got out pretty quick,” senior linebacker Zach Vigil said. “It was pretty frustrating, honestly. I’d like to see the defense come out a little bit quicker than that. It’s frustrating as a linebacker when they keep throwing to the outside. That’s part of the game. We know we’re tough inside and the offense knows that also. We just have to rally and recover a little quicker so our pressures can get going.”
In all, the Aggie defense recorded seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss and six pass break-ups during the scrimmage to go along with one touchdown.
On special teams, sophomore placekicker Jake Thompson connected on a 52-yard field goal to cap a 13-play, 65-yard drive by the No. 2 offense during its first drive of the scrimmage, and fellow sophomore placekicker Brock Warren added an 18-yard field goal during a red zone series.
Utah State, which is in its second week of fall camp, will have single practices Wednesday from 3:40-4:30 p.m., and Friday from 2:15-4:15 p.m. The team will have its second two-a-day Thursday, practicing from 9:15-11:15 a.m., and again from 4:55-6:25 p.m., both on the practice fields. USU will end its second week of fall camp with its second scrimmage as part of the Football Family Fun Day on Saturday, Aug. 16 at 6 p.m.
Utah State opens the 2014 season Sunday, Aug. 31, at Tennessee and plays its first home game the following weekend against Idaho State on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. USU's first Mountain West game will be at home against Air Force on Saturday, Oct. 11, and the Aggies conclude the regular season at MW foe Boise State on Saturday, Nov. 29. The Mountain West Championship game will be held Saturday, Dec. 6, at the home stadium of the divisional champion with the highest College Football Playoff Committee ranking.
All practices during fall camp, which concludes Saturday, Aug. 23, are open to the public.
Doug Hoffman is the associate athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.